November 1, 2010

The Matrix in Terms of Authenticity and Heidegger

Posted in Philosophers tagged , , at 10:02 pm by tiffanyannbrown

In 2005 my professor Greg Tropea gave me a copy of his dissertation from his PhD program at Syracuse University (where he received an M.A. in Linguistic Theory, an M.A. in Religion, and a PhD in Religion and Cultural Symbol Systems) entitled Religion, Ideology, and Heidegger’s Concept of Falling. Having opened and closed the book several times over the past five years due to a fear of its challenging vocabulary, I recently decided to pick it up again and give it a try, if for no other reason than to honor the note left on the inside front cover, which reads: “Tiffany – with recollections and anticipations of fine insights. Keeping the faith, Greg.”

In Religion, Ideology, and Heidegger’s Concept of Falling, Tropea provides an analysis of German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of “falling” in Being and Time, the 1926 book that attempts to decipher what is meant by the phrase “to be.” Central to Heidegger’s framework is his idea of authenticity vs. inauthenticity. According to Wikipedia, authenticity is defined as follows: “In philosophy, the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures.” Hence “falling” would be the act of caving into the external pressures of society that distract us from both getting to know and staying in touch with our true selves. In the case of “The Matrix,” it would be choosing the “blue pill” over the “red.” Tropea writes:

In authenticity, says Heidegger, Dasein chooses itself and wins itself, while in inauthenticity, Dasein chooses the public interpretations of the ‘they” and thereby loses itself … To Dasein’s state of being belongs falling. Proximally and for the most part Dasein is lost in its ‘world.’ Its understanding, as a projection upon possibilities of Being, has diverted itself thither. Its absorption in the ‘they’ signifies that it is dominated by the way things are publicly interpreted. That which has been uncovered and disclosed stands in a mode in which it has been disguised and closed off by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity.

In slightly simpler language, Jennifer McMahon discusses authenticity in “The Matrix” from the book entitled The Matrix and Philosophy:

Virtually all existential philosophers speak at length of the sort of choice Neo makes between honesty and ignorance, or truth and illusion. Though some use different terminology, they tend to describe it as a choice between authenticity and inauthenticity. Existentialists define authenticity as a state in which the individual is aware of the true nature of the human condition. In contrast, inauthenticity is defined as a state in which the individual is either ignorant of the true nature of reality or in denial with respect to it.

I find it interesting that Tropea wrote his book long before the popular 1999 movie “The Matrix” was ever conceptualized as there were references within his book that brought to mind ideas from the movie. “The Matrix” underscores this Heideggarian idea of being “lost” in the world, living inauthentically, and falling prey to they “they” (in this case, technology) that dominates the thinking of humans and the way that their world is fundamentally interpreted.

In Tropea’s chapter on technology, he discusses how technology can work against us when it comes to living authentically, but how it can also provide us with the ability to get lost in order to be found again. He writes:

Through its unplanned distancing of beings in their Being from authentic or resolute Dasein, technology in some moments forces Dasein away from its (that is, technology’s) matrix narrative in its one-dimensional world … Technology provides humanity with the possibility for factical existence grounded in the authentic resoluteness that Dasein achieves with the grasp of death as its ownmost possibility. It provides the occasion for Dasein to see how it can lose itself and how it can choose itself.”

To better clarify this concept—if not familiar with the movie—below is a synopsis from the book entitled The Matrix and Philosophy, specifically from the chapter entitled “Popping a Bitter Pill: Existential Authenticity in the Matrix and Nausea”:

The film depicts a future state, when, after a long and world-ravaging conflict, computers conquer the human race and enslave it as their energy source. The Matrix is the virtual reality created by the computer that both placates, and maximizes the energy output from, the human subjects who lie captive in a vast complex of energy pods. While the billions inside the Matrix exist in blissful ignorance of their true condition (as immobilized, expendable energy cells for the artificial intelligence that dominates earth), a small number of individuals are free of its digital illusion. Unlike their captive counterparts, these individuals are painfully aware of humanity’s authentic state. They constitute a resistance force that seeks to undermine the oppression by the Matrix. As a result, they live on the run from the computers that attempt to annihilate them.

And, below is a link to the original Matrix trailer:

Is it any wonder that the Matrix Reloaded had the second biggest opening weekend of all time in box office history? While some people may attribute the movie’s success to it’s visual effects and fight scenes, I would contend that it was the scriptwriters’ ability to connect with the culture at a much deeper level (albeit subconscious for most) that was responsible for its success.

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